Ed Balls and the Tory trap


8:50 am - January 21st 2011

by Sunder Katwala    


      Share on Tumblr

Those Conservatives who are over-excited about Balls’ appointment for this reason risk luring themselves further into the trap of preaching only to the converted.

If their core problem in May 2010 was that running against Gordon Brown was not enough, it seems rather curious to hope that it might be their salvation in 2015.

Last May, three-quarters of the public wanted a change from Labour. Where the Conservatives failed was in making their own case.

As Tory pollster Andrew Cooper has pointed out, the failure to resolve the strategy or message always sent the party scurrying back to a “relentlessly negative” anti-Brown argument.

In 2011, never mind 2015, banging on about Gordon Brown and the last government is going to seem to many people like a very poor substitute for a missing strategy for economic growth.

Of course it will resonate with some people. It will be popular on the Tory blogs, among signed-up commentators and on the Tory constituency rubber chicken circuit.

It might appeal to the 30% of the electorate who are very happy with the government and its economic strategy.

But, to everybody else, it risks looking ever more evasive with every month and year that passes, with Ministers repeating the mantra on Question Time and Any Questions ever more likely to be heckled.

Ed Balls’ challenge as Shadow Chancellor will be to ensure that it is this government’s economic record which comes primarily under scrutiny, and not only that of its predecessor.

—-
A longer version is at Next Left

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,Westminster

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


I Like Ed Balls, he has fire in his belly.

I’d agree with this more if it weren’t for the fact that some of us on the left still bang on about Thatcher continually. Double standards?

No. Not at all. Thatcher is still highly relevant because her policies have been continued without waver ever since. Which makes the conservative line doubly idiotic.

Yes, but as neither you or I can predict what Labour’s Balls inspired policies will be in 2015, exactly the same might apply. There is no sign of Balls changing tack, so, rightly or wrongly, the Tories might feel just as entitled to bring up Balls circa New Labour in 2015 as Labourites do Thatcher now.

Labour’s placemen in the media still insist they need to reverse the “decades” of underinvestment that took place before they were in power.

“Those Conservatives who are over-excited about Balls’ appointment for this reason risk luring themselves further into the trap of preaching only to the converted.”

Can I turn this around, Sunder? Those Labour supporters who are over-excited about Balls’ appointment risk luring themselves further into the trap of preaching only to the converted. Balls might be an aggressive bully boy, but is that going to win over all those people who don’t already support Labour – three quarters of the country according to the election verdict? The Tories don’t need to focus their campaigning on Ed Balls as the Son of Brown – they’re in government. The impetus is for the opposition to present credible economic alternatives, and they can hardly do that with the guy whose policy the electorate rejected last year.

Balls wont have a problem wiping floor with tories, yellow or blue. It will make good T.V and excite lots of comment. Dont like him, but he will “perform” well.
What wont change is Labours lack of support for all who say there are no need for cuts, there are plenty of alternatives given the guts and political will.(see UNISON, UNITE, Robin Hood Tax..bla bla bla. sure you all know what I mean.
Labour activists, will continue to fight cuts, support anit cuts coalitions but are in a strange position, without the support of their leaders.
There have been discussions about “allowing” people in the labour party to be involved in anti-cuts campaigns due to the party line. Voted down, sensibly, but can understand question being asked.
PLEASE everyone out there, dont waste energy on Balls, he will look after himself, spend energy on standing up to the government.

So, the one thing that was decided at the last election was that the Brown Government was toxic – both in terms of policy and presentation. And it is therefore a good thing that the man who, above all others, was responsible for the policy and the presentation is returned to the summit of the party. Right.

The comment at 7 just shows how the far left are frothing at the mouth of the idea of “Balls repeatedly punching the government in the face” as Sunny once said – although I wonder if LibCon would consider moderating its language in the wake of what happened in Tucson, Arizona? – but they have no faith in his economic ideology.

So they like the fact that he will criticise the Tories even though they admit he doesn’t have any “answers” to the economic problems they cite? Sounds like a principled bunch. There’s more to politics than naked aggression and negative briefing. The public outside of the far left actually hate all the bickering at PMQs and you’d be crazy to think it will help Labour or the far left to have even more bickering with Bully Boy Balls.

The general perception may be that Balls’ policies led to disaster, but we know this isn’t really the case. The challenge is the same one Labour failed to overcome during election campaigning; making the case that cuts were not, and are not essential. The problem is that while in opposition, Balls doesn’t get chance to show his approach really works to combat current misconceptions.

@9

Was I imagining things when Alastair Darling said Labour would need to make cuts that were “worse than Thatcher’s”? Your and Balls’s revisionism is astonishing.

Sunder,

Both parties are at risk of preaching to the converted – it is a normal political risk after all.

The problem is that Mr Balls cannot deny he was involved with running up the defecit and with the regulation of the banks. This means he is rather likely to be an easy target on two key issues – not because what he says will automatically be wrong, but because it will be easy for interviewers and opponents to ask if he will not simply make the same mistakes again…

To be effective beyond simply beating people up in the commons (remember, this generally is not over effective with the electorate, much as political nerds love it) Mr Balls will either have to admit there were problems previously or develop a narrative explaining how Labour were doing the right things – my guess is he will do the second, and that this will not be widely accepted.

To be honest, if Mr Balls became shadow chancellor in a couple of years (after the economy recovers) he might be effective, but I think he is too close to the crisis he was involved in, and that this may damage his ability to establish himself in the role. More worringly, I suspect that will be the Conservative line – to show that Labour have as their economic spokesman the man who was intimately involved with the current mess – especially since it allows them to also point out Mr Milliband’s role in the treasury as well…

@10

Darling can say what he likes, it doesn’t mean I agree, especially as I’m not particularly Labour. I have always taken the view that the deficit problem has been overplayed and that speculating to accumulate is the right approach.

“And it is therefore a good thing that the man who, above all others, was responsible for the policy and the presentation is returned to the summit of the party. Right.”

Except most of the problems with brown were related to perceptions about his personality and his inability to communicate, not his policy. Balls has demonstrated that he has…erm balls… and his more direct opposition to the cuts will work – particularly next year when they start to bite, unemployment hits 3 million and pay freezes plus inflation means a significantly lower standard of living for many- then the days of Blair and brown will be remembered rather more fondly.

14. Dick the Prick

It’s high risk, to be sure. Charlie Whelen, Balls, Miliband – where’s Brown? It just seems odd, really. How few friends Miliband has I guess.

Meh, you swap one tainted (new, newer, old) Labour politician with another and you are still going to end up with the same result. Every time Balls says something in the media the Tory on the panel/in the studio will merely refer to his involvement with Brown and ‘he got us into the this mess in the first place’…

Labour has allowed the Tories to build up that narrative through a sheer lack of will to fight for their principles. Had they spent the energy wasted on the Blair/Brown faction fighting on the Tories, well who knows? There where people within the Labour Party who appeared to delight in watching Brown et al getting a kicking in the media for the last three years, I wish these cunts would fuck off, but we are were we are.

The Tories were allowed to walk away from the legacy of high unemployment and fiddling the dole figures by a varitity of means, including incapiticity benefit and Labour are paying the price, quite rightly in my view.

I think the Labour Party’s best bet is to attempt to prise the leadership’s fingers from the throats of the disabled and the unemployed and instead focus on those who have gained most from the last. They need to link the Tories (blue and yellow) to the bankers. We need to show that the Tory front bench have more in common with the rich than the poor and that cuts to services are more to do with getting ready for a huge tax cut for the Country’s rich than reducing the deficit, a deficit caused by the people the Tories are being forced to protect, because they donate to the Tory Party.

Jim,

With Balls in place I think its more likely they may do that. AJ wasn’t able to land blows with a soft approach. Balls will with a tougher approach.

“We need to show that the Tory front bench have more in common with the rich than the poor”

I would just love it if Balls referred to Osbourne’s multi-million pound inheritance at every opportunity.

Planeshift/Jim,

Remember that the line of attacking the Conservatives as posh and wealthy was so successful that even Mr Brown abandoned it prior to the election…

If we have an exchange that goes something like this:

Political figure with no real job history: ‘Unfortunately you helped to cause the recession and the defecit through your crap regulation and profligacy’.

Political figure with slightly more employment history, but married to colleague: ‘Ah, but you’re rich so you must favour the rich’.

the converted on both sides will claim a win, most people won’t care. Unfortunately for Labour, most don’t care is not what they need – they need to get hold of the narrative and stop the Conservatives presiding over a recovery, probably bringing about tax cuts in time for the next election. And Mr Balls is hopefully smart enough to realise that?

Watchman

I am not saying that Labour should go after the front bench because they are merely ‘posh’ or ‘wealthy’, but because they have no interest in anyone else in the Country. I agree that merely going after Cameron/Clegg because they are rich is not a winning strategy, but explaining that they put up VAT (for example) rather than income tax is ideological and ‘designed’ to favour the rich over the poor. We could point that being rich means they are blinded to the regressive nature of VAT, because being rich means they suffer high income tax levels and therefore assume that ‘everyone’ suffers the same way.

Labour need to paint these people as not living in the ‘real world’. In Clegg/Cameron/front bench land, having a ‘part time job’ is perhaps a three day, two hour a day ‘job’ that ends up with you earning five hundred quid an hour. In the real World, a part time job ends up with you having a hundred quid a week to live on and a good portion of that going on transport costs. We could let Cameron witter on about the benefits of ‘part time work’, but contrast that with someone forced to cut back due to short time working.

Jim,

Ignoring the fact that Coulson’s resignation is about to make this thread totally irrelevant amongst the crowing and joy (justifiably)…

I’d suggest before advocating that line of attack you consider the two articles Dizzy helpfully pulled together:

http://dizzythinks.net/2011/01/worldly-experience-of-shadow-cabinet.html
and
http://dizzythinks.net/2011/01/worldly-experience-of-shadow-cabinet.html

Apart from the interesting fact that what Eric Pickles did before being an MP is apparently unknown (perhaps lurked in a nether region of hell, waiting to be summoned 😉 ), there is as Dizzy says rather a lack of real world experience in the shadow cabinet – which would seriously underline that entire attack. Yes, messrs Cameron and Osborne may have had it easy, but the shadow cabinet cannot really claim to represent the hard-working population (and remember, they have Shaun Woodward in their number…).

Bluntly, politicians, with the odd exception (Mr Johnson for example) rarely represent the working man directly. Rather they are elected because the working man is not concerned with ensuring a clone of him (or her, if the working man is now a woman) represents him or her.

Watchman @ 19

I entirely agree with you regarding the Labour front bench appearing to political geeks and policy wonks, that is true of the Labour Party and driven by the sneering attidude of the political classes in general. Think about the crap about ‘Gorbals Mick’, Prescott and Postman Johnston. That is not my point however. Irrespective of either the Ed’s connection with the ‘horny handed working classes’ they should at least be able to connect with these people.

You are right that the Labour Party have decoupled from the wider Labour movement, that is for a different thread(s), like or not, the Labour Party has its roots in that movement. Every Labour MP must have at least a dozen caseload examples of people getting kicked in the stones by the ConDems, so why not highlight them at PMQ, any questions etc? Let us get into the faces of the Tories with these individual cases? Let us contrast the story of the unfortunate woman who was nearly forced to put her child into care with the boss of banks getting huge bonuses?

Surely to Christ that has got to be better than attempting to trip Cameron up on a minor pre-election quibble? Everyone can see poor old Ed, falling on his face every week?

“Every Labour MP must have at least a dozen caseload examples of people getting kicked in the stones by the ConDems, so why not highlight them at PMQ, any questions etc? Let us get into the faces of the Tories with these individual cases? Let us contrast the story of the unfortunate woman who was nearly forced to put her child into care with the boss of banks getting huge bonuses?”

Spot on.

I’d add this. There are numerous charities who have massive caseloads of people getting fucked by the system, and now getting fucked even more. Yet the PR and media operations of many of them are shocking. I worked for a homeless charity – in one year we had a total of 3 press releases (and not a single one was a human interest style story) despite getting media enquiries fairly regularly. It’s pathetic. And we wonder why the tories got the terms of debate back onto their territory…..

The danger with anecdotes is both sides can always find plenty to support their argument. Conclusive statistics much better imho.

“The danger with anecdotes is both sides can always find plenty to support their argument. Conclusive statistics much better imho.”

You’d think so wouldn’t you?

But actually no – people relate to human interest stories told by a sympathetic journalist far more than endless powerpoint presentations. People empathise with the personal stuff, and wonder if it could be them. Indeed looking too geeky and intellectual is a bad thing for a politician, people vote for leaders they’d like to have a drink with, not leaders who can bore them with stats.

@Planeshift

Then we are all fucked, forever.

Let us contrast the story of the unfortunate woman who was nearly forced to put her child into care with the boss of banks getting huge bonuses?”

Because the danger with using personal anecdotes as critiques on policy is that the stories are rarely straightforward (wrt the poor family in Bristol, this is a matter for the local council, and funds for respite care have been increased, not cut). Equally, as with Jennifer’s Ear, they can backfire nastily with accusations of manipulating tragedy for cheap political effect.

The problem with using statistics, of course, is that half the people don’t understand them, and the other half don’t believe them.

Tim,

But there is a sort of prisoners dilemna here, in that one side has been using a drip-feed of annecdotal, exaggerated and unrepresentative stories on a daily basis for the last decade in order to persuade the public that the benefits system is too generous and public spending is too large and wasteful. It doesn’t matter whether this is backed up by statistical evidence, the fact is it has been hugely succesful. On the other side, the publicity generated by the third sector has been pathetic. We need to at least match it, because lengthy research reports, no matter how robust, do not win the battle for ideas.

@13 planeshift

I agree entirely that Labours problem at the last election was Brown himself and the policies if Labour had a different leader they may well have won the election.

The problem with Cameron ET al is that they still behave as though they are in opposition especially at PMQ’s even after him saying he would do away with punch and judy politics. Goes to show the bully from Bullingdon can’t change but he’ll find a match in Ed Balls.

Planeshift,

The problem with the third sector doing human interest stories (other than the confidentiallity issue) is that it is very difficult to present such stories in a non-political manner (‘Everything’s political’ – I know, but charities are not allowed to be…). Essentially, charities cannot start publically providing stories to back the clearly political anti-cuts campaign without finding their charitable status endangered.

Goes to show the bully from Bullingdon can’t change but he’ll find a match in Ed Balls.

Unless another (and more dramatic) reshuffle is on the cards, Balls won’t be facing up against Cameron in any forum.

“charities cannot start publically providing stories to back the clearly political anti-cuts campaign”

Charities can legally campaign on issues related to their purpose; so for example MIND can run stories of mental health, and campaign on issues that effect their clients (such as disability benefits reform), but they wouldn’t be able to join a protest against an oil pipeline for example. They also can’t do party political stuff, so they couldn’t run a campaign explicitly endorsing one party.

The above wouldn’t stop them using the drip-feed of human interest stories and then speaking about the effect certain policies have had on their clients.

Planeshift,

Yes – but if a charity starts to drip feed stories, and this is picked up by the press as a story in itself, what is the bad publicity likely to do for the charity? Despite what one or two charities which have large amounts of government funding seem to believe, charities generally need good will to gain money (and alienating the government is probably pretty stupid as well…).

Charities are indeed free to campaign for their particular area, but you seemed to be advocating releasing stories to the press for political purposes other than that. If I mistook your purpose, I appologise.

@29 Tim

Bully from Bullingdon.. perm any two from three DC, GO, BJ?

Looks like the final nail in Milliband’s coffin.

Caught between the party’s two Balls (shadow chancellor and home secretary respectively) he’s bound to be squeezed out eventually.

skooter,

Mr Osbourne was not in the Bullingdon Club was he?

32 – Ah, good point. Osborne looks so much more like someone who was the victim of bullying that I’d missed the connection.

Tim J @ 25

On the other hand, the Tories have pretty ruthlessly used these ‘anecdotes’ to win favour for their side. They have been seen to ‘win’ the argument pretty comprehensively by pushing the ‘two million pound quid flat for the asylum seekers’, ‘forty grand a year for the ten child unemployed single mother’ et al. The Labour Party have been forced to join in the general kicking of the weakest of society, as pointed out by plainshift @ 26.

The difference is, I firmly believe that the stories the Tories and their mouthpieces use are the exceptions to the rule. However, the real stories about people suffering are the majority of cases. It would be nice if someone, anyone, from the Left stood up and said, ‘actually most single mothers live in grotty flats, as do asylum seekers’ and could reel of an example from our own caseloads, instead of ‘Yes, single mothers, scum of the Earth’. This is what is wrong with Labour; they see the Tory Party as fundamentally decent people, who are attacking vulnerable people in order to improve society, instead of greedy bastards.

The Tories hate us and everything we stand for. Why give them the benefit of the doubt?

@34 & 35

Take a look at this pic and see who is number 1?

He may not gave been DC’s gang but he is fully paid up member along with some other notables!!

http://iconicphotos.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/bullingdon_club_at__417769a.jpg?w=585&h=350

@36 Jim

I do believe many on the left have tried to highlight these issues but one of the main problems is the right wing press refusing to give them any meaningful coverage, afterall why let the truth get in the way of a good story?

I think you are missing something here. There is a third party, the Lie Dems. . It is not just the tories who Balls has to attack. We know what they stand for, but the Lie Dems used to stand for something very different to the idiocy their leader has signed up to. There is going to be a lot of cringing in the Lie Dem ranks as Balls points out a few home truths. Good. The lie Dems need to feel the heat.

40. Sunder Katwala

Osborne was also in fact a member of the Bullingdon Club, as this photo shows (though he was reportedly bullied by the other members for having gone to the expensive and more intellectual but apparently socially inferior public school St Pauls). The bullying reflects worse on his fellow members than him, of course, though he stayed in the club so must perhaps have wanted their approval anyway, or seen it all as a lark.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1080808/Mystery-missing-hellraisers-George-Osborne-spirits-drinking-party.html#ixzz1BhlAQv6P

“During his time in the Bullingdon Club, he was reportedly nicknamed ‘Oik’ because he had gone to St Paul’s public school instead of Eton or Harrow. A popular lark among his fellow Buller men was to hold him upside-down by the ankles by and scream: ‘Who are you?’

After several ‘wrong’ answers, each followed by Mr Osborne being dropped on his head, he was finally released after squealing: ‘I am a despicable ****.’

Sally why are you such an obnoxious cunt?

Skooter @ 38

I understand where you are comming from, but to be honest, I wasn’t really talking about the Right wing press. The Left are not finding convert among the foam mouthed Daily Hate readership. I was talking about the type of places were decent people get news stories from. That includes places like phone ins, any questions,question time etc.

The Left need to get across that these cuts are idealogical in nature. The concept that the Tories are using cuts as a long term strategy to shift from a proggresive tax system to a regressive one. We need to keep the VAT increase in the public eye and we need to get the idea that it is a regressive tax across to the public. Osbourne has already admitted that it is here to say, yet no-one appears to want to point out the long term implications of that tax shift. That means that the balance is being shifted onto the shoulders of those least able to take the burden, yet it is never mentioned now by anyone on the left.

The Left are losing the battle for the hearts and minds, as anyone who watched ‘Question Time’ the other night. The Left are far more interested in salting the open wound of Iraq than defend their own people.

43. Anon E Mouse

40. Sunder Katwala – No one in the real world cares any more about the Bullingdon Club than they did about Tony Blair in the Oxford Dining Club : http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6410883.stm

The public are really not interested and don’t even know (or care) who Ed Balls is except when they keep feeling the pinch with the cuts and the fact Balls was close to Brown, the most unpopular PM since records began, is just going to hurt Labour.

Oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them and as Nick Clegg said; the interest alone on Labour’s debts could build a new school every hour, 24 hours a day people shown a graphic of schools next to Balls will get the picture.

@Jim – The VAT rise will only be felt by the poor who don’t care about politics and no longer vote Labour – they have no power. The price of their cigarettes and beer will go up but it’ll soon be forgotten.VAT isn’t on children’s clothes or food, big ticket items have been more than discounted by the chains to cover it up, oil prices have been blamed on the fuel rises and companies reclaim it.

If the lefts intention is to use the VAT rise against the government it shows how far from a credible position Labour have. Is that it?

The next election is four years away. All this will be forgotten by then…

@43

You mean no one on the “right” cares about the Bullingdon Club, or rather likes to have it aired, because it is an inconvenient truth that our leaders are so out of touch with reality and that to expose them as champagne swilling bun fighting toffs is just not cricket old boy!

You are correct though when you say oppositions dont win elections, ergo the current crop of ideoligists and opportunists we have peddling their version “we’re all in it together” bullshit! How much is VAT going to put on the price of the next Ferrari or Porche, or are they simply too grand an item for the everyday person to afford?

45. Anon E Mouse

@44 skooter

Ask anyone waiting for a kebab or a bus about the Bullingdon club and they would look at you blankly. All people care about is their beer money and summer holiday.

It was shown by the failed “Tory Toffs” thing a couple of years ago.

When John Prescott is filmed playing croquet, Harriet Harman is deputy Labour leader and Ed Miliband becomes a property millionaire through his personal tax avoidance without ever doing a single days work in his life it just stinks of hypocrisy.

Labour just will not learn it seems. The way to government is to shift right like most of Europe. Socialism is dead…


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Ed Balls and the Tory trap http://bit.ly/dVBfjx

  2. Edward Clarke

    RT @libcon: Ed Balls and the Tory trap http://bit.ly/dVBfjx

  3. Adam Bienkov

    RT @libcon: Ed Balls and the Tory trap http://bit.ly/dVBfjx

  4. sunny hundal

    "Ed Balls and the Tory trap" – this, by @nextleft is spot on http://bit.ly/dVBfjx

  5. David Wearing

    RT @sunny_hundal: "Ed Balls and the Tory trap" – this, by @nextleft is spot on http://bit.ly/dVBfjx

  6. Rachel

    RT @sunny_hundal: "Ed Balls and the Tory trap" – this, by @nextleft is spot on http://bit.ly/dVBfjx

  7. Jill Hayward

    RT @sunny_hundal: "Ed Balls and the Tory trap" – this, by @nextleft is spot on http://bit.ly/dVBfjx

  8. Jan Bennett

    RT @sunny_hundal: "Ed Balls and the Tory trap" – this, by @nextleft is spot on http://bit.ly/dVBfjx

  9. the journapist

    RT @libcon: Ed Balls and the Tory trap http://bit.ly/dVBfjx

  10. Get Political Fund » Blog Archive » Ed Balls and the Tory trap | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] Excerpt from: Ed Balls and the Tory trap | Liberal Conspiracy […]

  11. David Wearing

    @chuzzlit On that, this is worth reading http://bit.ly/eEuiLe

  12. Alison Charlton

    Thanks to @davidwearing for: Ed Balls and the Tory trap http://bit.ly/eEuiLe by @nextleft

  13. Alison Charlton

    Thanks to @davidwearing for: Ed Balls and the Tory trap http://bit.ly/eEuiLe by @nextleft

  14. Rachel Hubbard

    Ed Balls and the Tory trap | Liberal Conspiracy http://goo.gl/1lxal





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.